According to Boston News, in early December 2011, a carpenter accidentally discharged a nail gun and embedded a 3.5 inch nail in the bottom of his neck. Based on the CT scan included here, it appears the nail entered the neck dead center given the clear appearance of the windpipe.
Based on the location, the anatomic sequence of nail piercing is as follows:
Skin –> Thyroid Gland –> Trachea –> Esophagus Back Wall –> Cervical Vertebral Body
The damage to skin, thyroid, and trachea is not a big deal… In fact, one can consider this a mini-tracheostomy. Minimal bleeding would be expected.
However, the hole between the trachea and esophagus is another matter which may heal well… or not. The esophagus is the swallow tube which transports food from the mouth to the stomach. A hole in the esophagus to the trachea (tracheo-esophageal fistula) would allow swallowed food/liquid to pass from the esophagus over to the trachea and into the lungs leading to pneumonia and bronchitis. This uncontrollable aspiration can potentially be life threatening as the hole could also allow food to pass BETWEEN the trachea and esophagus right down to the heart leading to possible mediastinitis (inflammation/infection of the heart lining).
Treatment initially would be placement of a feeding tube and a long course of IV antibiotics. If the hole does not spontaneously close, it would require surgical closure, typically with a flap of some kind.
As the news story mentioned, he was VERY lucky the nail went in where it did. If it went in a little further to the right or left, it could have punctured his carotid or jugular vein and he would have bled to death.
Carpenter Shoots Himself In Neck With Nail Gun. WCVB Boston News
*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*